Paul Whelan, Bass-baritone: Circular Learning

Paul Whelan

Paul Whelan

“Paul Whelan’s charismatic orotund bass practically made my fillings rattle.”
“Paul Whelan sang like black oil seeping into the hall.”
“Paul Whelan, bass, demonstrates that one can appear in a single scene and still steal the show.”
“Wondrous tone resounds from top to bottom of his register.”
“His dark voice reaches all corners of the hall.”
“Vocal splendor…”
“… a dark, brooding intensity…”
“… wonderfully sonorous …”

Every one of the above reviews are of Paul Whelan’s performances over the past three years.  At 51, he now understands why his teachers always told him his bass voice would not develop fully until he was well over forty, although he has been singing professionally since his early 20’s.  “I really believe in circular learning,” he says. “That’s the idea that you return to experiences and things you have learned before, but there are always new things that you add to them, your responses are different, and so you improve each time. It’s apparently the same with my singing.”

Paul more or less fell into classical singing. His father was a cathedral organist and choirmaster in Christchurch, New Zealand, where Paul and his two brothers grew up. “From the age of 8 I played viola in the school orchestra—everyone had to play an instrument—and then I got dragged into my father’s cathedral choir when I was a teenager. But as for a career in music—I played and sang in a garage rock band and thought I’d just be a rock musician. Then I did an audition for a music college and suddenly a path appeared. I enjoyed everything about the program: lessons in voice, diction, movement, acting, all the things you have to learn to be able to sing opera. And it was amazing to me that all the fun I was having was actually considered work!”

At music college he won second prize in a contest called the Mobile Song Quest, judged by Kiri Te Kanawa; he sent a video of the televised contest as his application to the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, UK, and was accepted on the strength of it. Then he won the bi-annual Cardiff Singer of the World Lieder Competition, which catapulted him onto the world stage. Since then, he has sung in recitals, concerts, and operas on the world’s most famous stages—the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the Sydney Opera House (performing in Mozart’s Requiem —“The stage vibrated!”), Amsterdam’s Muziektheater—but his performance with The Cecilia Chorus of New York on May 11 will mark his Carnegie Hall mainstage debut.

With all the traveling his career requires, Paul considers it a special treat to make this debut in his hometown. For the past ten years, when not performing, he has lived a typical New York City life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with his wife, Madeline Bender, founder and director of Creative Stage, and their 9 year-old son. He serves on the board of their local community garden and is helping their son’s school establish a music program. But where great music beckons, he will go. “There are still new challenges for me, new things to learn, new carrots dangling on a string in front of me. I didn’t wake up one day knowing how to do this.  I’ve had to work hard at it and I still do. But nowadays, being able to give a performance I am satisfied with is a little less out of reach.”

For more information about Paul Whelan, visit

Bio Paul Whelan, Bass-baritone

This season, bass-baritone Paul Whelan joins the Lyric Opera of Kansas City as Gremin in Eugene Onegin, the London Song Festival, the Arctic Philharmonic for Haydn’s Creation, and The Cecilia Chorus of New York for Mozart’s Requiem. Future seasons include performances with the Jacksonville Symphony and Santiago di Chile.

Paul is a winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Lieder Prize. Conductors with whom he has collaborated include Sir Simon Rattle, Kent Nagano, Richard Hickox, Yehudi Menuhin, Valery Gergiev, Gary Bertini, and Vassily Sinaisky; he has given recitals at Wigmore Hall, The Purcell Room, Cardiff’s St. David’s Hall, Cheltenham Festival, BBC Pebble Mill, Perth Festival, and at the Châtelet Theatre in Paris. Recordings include: A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis (Philips); Kurt Weill’s Silber See under Markus Stenz (BMG); recordings with the BBC Philharmonic for Chandos and with the BBC Scottish Symphony for Hyperion.